The Last Words of Christ: Forsaken

March 12, 2013

The Last Words of Christ: Forsaken


7 Cover Art Week 4
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus’ words from the cross rattle our bones and shake our soul by turning our Godly assumptions inside out. Is it that God is abandoning his son, his only beloved son? Is the burden of the world’s sin so great that a holy God must avert divine eyes? Is our Lord and Messiah, the one who fed thousands, walked upon the water, and healed the sick, calmly reciting the 22nd Psalm reminding us that even in the midst of despair God is to be praised? Did Jesus offer these words because he knew that we, too, feel as if God has forsaken us when prayers are answered with silence and “the good life” is anything but? It is no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of answers to Jesus’ disturbing question. Over the last two thousand years any theologian worth the title has offered meaning to Jesus’ desperate cry, so this morning I would like to offer a single thought, which is this: God completely empties himself so that he might become those whom he desires to redeem. To put it another way—God becomes godforsaken so that the godforsaken will have life. God becomes distant from his own divine self, so that those who have become distant from God are called into eternal communion with the Trinity.
For Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is to reveal that God’s heart within the Trinity is breaking. God, himself, is experiencing death. This is the moment in which the “Our Father” becomes “My God.” Throughout the Gospels, when Jesus prays, he prays to his Father. Now, his prayer becomes “My God.” “Our Father” is communal and intimate. “My God,” is personal and powerful. His prayer now becomes “My God” because the divine essence within Jesus is dying with his humanity. Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “Christ [dies] on our behalf and in our place. Hear these words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and know that the Son of God has taken our place, become for us the abandonment our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross.”[1]
It is no accident that Jesus prays in the words of the 22nd Psalm. Praying the psalms offers our life form. The Psalms invite us to praise, to sing, to cry out in anger, and to lament. The Psalms are words about God, which is the word of God. In other words, we have been offered divine permission for these words to be our words. Although Christ dies in our stead, Jesus’ cry from the Psalms gathers those whom God loves together into one body, again as Hauerwas writes, “The life of Jesus has been the perfect prayer the Psalms are meant to form.”[2] I invite you to pray with me as we read selected verses of the 22nd Psalm:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
 Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them. 
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
 let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 
On you I was cast from my birth,
 and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help . . .

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled; 
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; 
they divide my clothes among themselves,
 and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 
Deliver my soul from the sword,
 my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion . . .

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. 
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord, 
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
In this moment, the “Our Father” becomes “My God.” In this moment God is self-emptying and becoming godforsaken so that we who are far away will be drawn into communion with the divine. In this moment, our assumptions that faith offers “the good and prosperous life” are shattered. In this moment, Jesus cries through the Psalms, Jesus cries to us and for us, offering our life to be conformed to his, the one who “Emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross,” so that we might also be united in his Resurrection.
I pray that you remember, believe, and trust in God’s self-emptying love, so that you can go into the broken places of your own soul and know that Christ’s brokenness offers healing, so that you may go into the broken places of the world and proclaim a life of Resurrection which can be shared today and forever; a life with no fear because Christ has conquered death. God abandoned himself, so that we, and the whole of creation, would never be. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.